Thomas Thistlewood and women slaves.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The diary of Thomas Thistlewood, 1750 to 1786, provides us with a case study in which to assess the nature of eighteenth century Jamaica. The level of interaction that Thistlewood has with the slave community means that we are able to build up a picture not only of white, but also slave society. The diary shows that a continuum existed between the white and slave communities. Slave women were important to the process of intermingling. They bridged the gap between the two communities in three important ways. These were through engaging in long term sexual liaisons with white men, bearing mulatto children, and becoming the commercial intermediaries between the two communities. These roles meant that slave women filtered information, culture, and money back and forth between the two communities. Gender was an important determinant in the experience of a slave, Slave women were subject not only to exhaustive work routines and punishment, but also to sexual exploitation and the extra burden of reproduction. Gender also played a role in the opportunities a slave had to escape from the field. Field slaves were assigned work in a largely genderless way, however, positions of authority, such as driver, were reserved for male slaves. Slave occupations away from the field were also gender biased, with women working in the house and as marketers, and men pursuing the trades. This bias was based on white gender assumptions, and effectively limited the ability of women to escape from the field. The sexual exploitation of slave women was common in Jamaica. While most women gained nothing from sexual liaisons with white men, a small number were able to turn their exploitation to their advantage, and gain an improved lifestyle and position. Slave women played an important role within the slave community. As bearers of tradition they had an important role in the preservation and retention of a separate slave culture with African influences. Slave women were the primary care givers to children, however, Thistlewood's diary suggests that slave men were also important in the upbringing of the children. The experiences of Thistlewood and those he mentions in his diary give us an ideal place to centre wider debates concerning the nature of slave and master interaction, and the role and position slave women played.